Nissan Contends With Class Action Leaf Suit, Other Issues

Leaf owners who have said Nissan has lacked full forthrightness regarding batteries delivering less range in hot states might be hoping it will turn over a new leaf, but a more fitting metaphor might be Nissan at least might like to turn to a new happier chapter.

Its story line however continues to be pretty much the same that there is no defect in its Leaf powertrain engineering and design, and the company is not at fault in any way.

That said, Nissan – with overall issues of flagging U.S. sales – has returned two Leafs under Arizona lemon law – while reportedly saying this was merely a “good will” gesture – and now it is facing a class-action suit in California.

Customer testimonials include repeated tales of Nissan dealers – and people higher up the corporate ladder – saying loss of range beyond expectancy set by Nissan in writing is “normal.”

Nissan’s Senior VP of Research and Development, Carla Bailo, said in an open letter in July to the forum that the company actually had just found out about issues that had been going on for months.

But allegations continue – even from reluctant fans of EVs who were eager first adopters.

The angle taken by the California class action suit (points #7, 8) is that Nissan allegedly misrepresented range at 100 miles or less while not disclosing a 100-percent charge would be required for this – and while saying a 100-percent charge could damage the battery.

Also alleged by the suit (point #9) is “Nissan failed to disclose and/or intentionally omitted to reveal a design defect in the Leaf’s battery system (the “thermal management defect”) which is causing all Class Vehicles to suffer wide spread, severe and premature loss of driving range, battery capacity and battery life.”

We covered the thermal heat degradation questions in one article about personal problems experienced by one couple in Texas, and another follow-up.

To the class action suit, Nissan replied as follows:

Nissan is aware of the filing of a lawsuit by two Nissan LEAF owners. We believe the lawsuit lacks merit.
We stand by our breakthrough technology and the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. We also acknowledge and are grateful to our customers who have chosen to embark on a zero-emission leadership path with us.
In bringing this exciting new technology to market, Nissan has sought to educate the public and potential purchasers about the unique operating characteristics of an electric vehicle. Nissan has provided information on how the vehicle works, its estimated range, and factors that can affect both range and battery life through many sources, including the Nissan LEAF website, owner’s manual and detailed written disclosure.
While Nissan regrets that a very small number of LEAF owners are dissatisfied, Nissan stands behind its product and consumers, and remains committed to electric vehicle technology. Globally, more than 38,000 LEAFs are on the road and have travelled collectively more than 100 million zero-emission miles. In fact, LEAF customers are some of Nissan’s most satisfied. Just as a pickup truck or a sports car isn’t right for every customer, an electric vehicle may not be right for a specific customer. But if you’re determined to have minimal impact on the environment then an all-electric vehicle remains the only pathway to zero-emissions mobility.

As for the lemon law returns we also made note of following a TV report in Arizona, Nissan said it did this as a customer service gesture and used “a buyback formula modeled on an Arizona state repurchase law, given its established criteria.”

And it is sticking to its guns that the car does not need a thermal management system such as the Chevy Volt has.

Off-the-record comments we were told by a source in Japan are that Nissan’s people in America are getting much of their policy and marching orders from corporate heads in Japan, and have their hands partially tied while told to manage the problem.

Whether that is actually the case, Nissan’s official responses have contrasted to a public relations fiasco General Motors went through last fall into this year following the federal government’s side-impact test of a Volt. That car caught fire in summer 2011 three weeks after the car was parked without “depowering” the battery.

Neither GM nor safety officials reported this right away, saying they thought it was not very alarming and merely being researched, but once the news broke in November, GM found itself in a defensive posture.

Press coverage was perceptibly more vigorous – some would say merciless in some quarters – against “Government Motors” and while it could be said a potential “safety concern” was at stake, the actual risk was questionable.

As soon as the news became public however, GM took remarkable steps to disarm critics and allay customer concerns. It managed the mess with such measures as immediately offering free loaner cars to concerned Volt owners until resolve was made, and offered to buy back Volts without having to be taken to the mat.

GM was already trying to outlive the legacy of “who killed the electric car,” and launch its “disruptive” technology in the face of an army of critics.

Whether its Volt issues were worse or not, over time GM received a lot more ready forgiveness from customers – and even critics were more or less disarmed – because it was perceived as coming clean, bending over backwards to prove itself, and not perceived as working under a policy of denial and playing its hand close to its chest.

As for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, its image and perception are still being questioned, if not in a less amplified manner than the Volt fire questions.

In Nissan’s and GM’s defense, one could also argue that a double standard is being unfairly applied by some against electric vehicles, but it is what it is, and GM was seen as offering maximum liberality to minimize collateral PR damage.

How Nissan has handled Leaf owners alleging 1) the battery should be thermally managed with liquid heating and cooling, and 2) inside one-and-a-half years some are claiming over five years degradation has occurred, is being observed even by the sympathetic to be less forthcoming than was GM, and we shall see where this goes.

A more recent statement by Bailo on these allegations maintains range loss has been within specifications, and experienced by only a small percentage of people in Arizona – while not even acknowledging complaints from Texas or California.

It is true the percentage is slim. It should also be noted Arizona and the other two states not mentioned by Nissan were first on the Leaf’s roll out schedule that began December 2010, and there are other relatively hot states that took delivery later, so whether we’ll see more claims in more states is another question among many awaiting resolution.

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  • SteveCH

    I say take them to court. Sue them. Nissan is doing great damage to the electric car movement. I would never buy a Nissan after seeing how they are treating their first electric vehicle customers.

  • Van

    One could speculate the plan is to stonewall until the next gen battery hits the showrooms, then proclaim the problem has been rectified. Hopeful that view is simply paranoid delusion. 🙂

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    This clearly shows how the Japanese Auto Makers did NOT sufficient testing and only designed their cars based on the “mild” temperature of Japan and Europe.

    Just about all European and American EV makers made sure their batteries are properly regulated in all temperature. Tesla, GM, Ford, VW and BMW all use liquid cooling in their designs. Even Honda at least added a “fan” to their battery pack. Toyota and Mitsubishi did the same thing. Why Nissan ignore that fact is beyond me…

    Another reason to wait for the $30k Tesla. In the mean time, buy/lease a Volt… or Ford Energi model…

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Sounds like they are gambling to save a few million dollars now, by not doing buybacks to satisfy those few customers, while risking their global image in general….


  • Chris Lynt

    Imagine any other car company settling with disgruntled owners within a matter of a few months, out of court, without needing any lawyers or lawsuits. And consider that the complaint of those AZ owners was that the battery capacity had prematurely degraded when battery caapacity is not even warrantied by Nissan. That is, under the ‘lemon law’ only things that are non-conforming with a WARRANTY are eligible, so Nissan could have won if they had been sued under the lemon law.

    I say kudos to Nissan for bringing this electric car technology to the mass market and for allowing customers, who probably simply made a mistake in their determination that an electric car would fit their needs, to return their vehicles for a refund!

    Consider how long it took Ford to acknowledge roll-over dangers in their SUV’s, or more recently, Toyota to acknowledge the had accelerator problems.

    I look forward to aa forensic technical dissection of the returned Leafs by Nissan and thier independent analysts and the details of what, if anything, in those Leafs was at fault.

  • Marvin

    @Chris Lynt – Kudos to Nissan is right. But the forensic analysis by Nissan was done. Nissan denies any defects. The link is above.

    If Chelsea and her crew find something different, that’s another story….

    Fact is they probably need a TMS for these really hot climates.

    Also cant say I agree that lawyers should be necessary and we can look at past bad exmples by Ford.

    This is a new technology. First impressions are important! You want to say kudos for Nissan by setting a lead? Yeah let them set the lead and not throw their customers under the bus.

    For the good of EVs, Nissan needs to be more like GM was with the Volt IMHO.

  • Pb1

    Nissan needs to learn from GM and come clean to take care of the early adopters by fixing the battery issue or offering buyback for the small number as claimed by Nissan. It will go a long way in gaining trust and getting the owners behind them in selling the car. No advertising success comes close to word of mouth and Nissan will alienate more potential buyers with their current approach of denial.

    The most popular owners forum for the leaf mynissanleaf is filling up with more concerns than support. It was a place to hear from other owners but now new buyers get more cautious warning on getting the leaf.

  • smithjim1961

    I have mixed feelings about this whole issue.

    It’s not just the heat of Arizona it’s also the mountains. Climbing long, steep grades in high temperatures is brutal punishment for all kinds of vehicles. Going DOWN steep grades is also tough on EV batteries because of regenerative braking. I live in a milder climate without big-ass mountains and a Leaf would work well in my area.

    On the other hand, it seems that Nissan’s competitors had no problem designing and manufacturing proper battery cooling systems. Some people who have defended Nissan say the media blew this problem out of proportion. I agree but the media ALWAYS blows things out of proportion. Smart automotive companies accept this fact and act accordingly.

  • Leaf!

    We the buyers do not create or change the landscape neither do we control weather conditions. The 62-138 miles range claim is very disputable. Nissan Leaf can do 138 miles perhaps sitting on a tow truck. The car can seat 4 passenger but the average conditions are based on a single passenger. How can you be in an HOV lane with HOV sticker and drive at 38-50 miles per hour? This is a joke. The dealers keep talking about 100 miles range until you call them to report that the range is barely 70 miles with a single passenger. Its valleys in California and weather in Arizona and Texas.

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